She killed it at the Look Queen finale at Monster a few weeks ago, didn’t she? Tammy Spenks is known for her singing pipes and cooter slams, but who knew she could turn out such fierce looks and elaborate performances? I chat with this fun queen about that already-legendary second place win, and the new party coming up at Mr. Biggs that she’s hosting!
Thotyssey: Tammy, hello! Thanks for talking to us! I really enjoyed your performance and looks from the Look Queen season finale, where you won second place! Are you still basking in the glory?
Tammy Spenks: Thanks love! It was seriously one of my favorite nights ever. The energy was so overwhelming, and the competition was fierce! I wouldn’t say basking [laughs]. But I was really proud of the package, and the people who helped me make it happen! And everyone has been so sweet about the whole thing. Just awesome.
You’re Barb killed for the presentation. Where did you get those 80′s Mom-jeans that she wears?
[Laughs] I live off of 125th Street, and it is just filled with little treasures. I got all the pieces from different places, and my girl Holly Box-Springs and I built the reveal.
It was amazing. Were you concerned at first that there were some other Stranger Things looks, or was that just inevitable because of the sci-fi theme of the night?
Thanks. When I first talked about the idea, I worried about the possibility of other people doing Stranger Things, because I knew it is topical right now. But I got to a place that I stopped caring about anyone else! I just wanted to do my best version.
And you did! Also, the Barefoot Contessa talent was twisted genius. Was that your first time doing a number with actual poultry?
[Laughs] I actually did that number back in October of last year. But I spent a lot of time making it, and only got to do it once–so I wanted to bring it back for a final hurrah! So no–this would be the second time I used and abused poultry.
What exactly is it about Ina Garten that’s so fascinating? I’m surprised I don’t see more queens do her.
Omg she’s hilarious. My friends and I used to turn her on, close our eyes and pretend she was narrating a porn. It’s truly the best.Try it! I just think her show is strangely calming, and she has a suspiciously good relationship with her husband. So I wanted to play on that. And I’m not sure why more queens haven’t done it. But I’m fine with that!
So congrats again for Look Queen! This has been a good few months for you. You had that pageant success, and did many appearances, and now there’s a new party you’re hosting this weekend! But let’s start at the beginning: you’re a Ohio native, right?
Yes! I’m from northern Ohio and went to school in Dayton.
What were your early creative interests that led you ultimately to queendom? Did you always want to be a performer?
Yeah, I’m an actor. I’ve been performing since I was a kid, and went to school for musical theatre. I’ve worked as an actor and stage manager, and drag started to just creep into my life. I went through a phase of not getting a lot of acting work, and I started to learn that doing drag is really an amazing creative outlet that feeds my Performer Monster. And I continue to learn that as a drag queen, you actually learn how to do so many other things that you never even really thought of before. And now all of my income comes from dressing like a clown woman! So right now, it’s giving me what I need and want.
How do you think your style of drag, both your look and your performing style, have changed since you started?
Oh honey… I needed to get a lot together from when I started! I would say I’m just far more aware of what good drag is. And I totally believe that every queen should do her own thing. But the level of drag definitely changes, simply in the fact that you learn how to work your face and your makeup!
But honestly, as a queen you progress every year. I look at pictures from just a few months ago, and notice a difference in something. I don’t think that ever stops. And as far as performing goes–I’ve gotten far more confident in what I do.
You have to exercise your artistic freedom with drag, but it also is a job. And you have to deliver things that your audience wants sometimes–even if it’s not your favorite thing. But I’m learning how to navigate that road a lot better with my shows–make then get into what you want them to get into.
What’s a good example of something that the audience usually wants that isn’t necessarily on the top of Tammy’s wishlist?
Well, I can honestly get into pretty much anything! But for example–I’m a singer and I love a good ballad, honey. But you can’t always sing a ballad when a room of gays are about to dance their faces off after your show. So, I’ll just save the ballad for another time. Or my shower.
Got it! We love your singing, and of course you are well-known for your cooter slams and other crazy dance moves. Did you also study dancing at school?
I did study dance as part of my curriculum, but I’ve never really considered myself a dancer [laughs]. I’ve always been surrounded by people who can dance, honey. I just like to get wild sometimes!
Indeed! And you were college friends with fellow queen Dusty Ray Bottoms, right?
Yes! That biddy and I have been together since freshman year.
And you both basically started drag at the same time too.
We did! Through a strange chain of events, we did a drag show in Queens together. It was… something [laughs]! And the rest is history!
I understand you played Edna Turnblad, a drag role, in a Royal Caribbean production of Hairspray! How’s a cruise audience different from a bar audience?
I did! It was one of my first jobs after school, and I was really lucky for the opportunity. That situation was really different- Hairspray is a full musical, and it was really a super glamorous moment–full production value. But It wasn’t a drag show, which is completely different. All of those people were on vacation seeing my show, and it was all set from weeks of rehearsal. Also it’s mostly families traveling together, and not people putting money in my cleavage [laughs].
A drag show is all about improvisation. You have no idea what people are going through, or what their day has been like, when they come to your gigs. So it’s our job to make people escape reality for a minute. You have to take what the audience is giving you and work from there.
You can try to plan a drag show, but it never works out completely like you think it might! Doing a musical or play is a set thing. It’s the biggest difference between the two worlds, and it’s what I love most about both of them.
I remember from your Boots & Saddle show (which I miss!) with co-star Brita Filter that you two had lots of chasers. They seemed mostly harmless from what I saw, but in general, how do you handle the chaser crowd?
Oh the chasers… yeah, they are mostly harmless. I think everyone deals with people differently. Listen–if you want to come to my shows and be supportive energy, I am all for it and appreciate you being there.
But the problem, I’m learning, is that we have a lot of people getting physical with us in the drag community. And that is not okay. And I believe that it’s usually with no bad intentions attached to it–but that doesn’t matter. If I’m trying to make my way through a crowd to get to the stage or the dressing room, or in the middle of a performance (believe it or not) and someone pulls on my hair or feels the need to slap my ass, it immediately makes me want to leave. Or punch them in the neck. So that is a current issue a lot of us deal with. But the chasers for the most part aren’t touching me. (Unless I ask them to!)
You’re right, people do seem to be getting handsier with drag performers lately. Why do you think that is?
Well I think it feels different to people because we are “on the ground” performers. Meaning, we interact with people very directly, and sometimes personally. So I think people feel “close” to you in a way. Which is actually a great thing. But in reality, you wouldn’t run up to a stranger on the street and slap their ass as they’re crossing the street. Or maybe you would. And you would get slapped! Also, alcohol is thrown in there too.
As far as social media goes, you had your drama in the distant past, which we won’t get into. We’ve all had our social media drama! But that’s with colleagues or folks we’re on equal standing with, so sometimes that can be catty and fun. But I’m surprised now when I see really young queens and nightlifers these days blowing up venues and venue owners and promoters by name on social media. Doesn’t this just seem like career suicide to you?
Yeah, everyone definitely has a moment or two on social media. The thing is–social media is a platform to say what you want to say. But it’s a double-edged sword, because it also is a business platform.
But listen–I love sipping on the tea on Facebook daily [laughs]. I just know rebuilding burnt bridges can be nearly impossible. So I always think twice. And it’s a small, small community, at the end of the day.
So, Adore Delano crying and leaving Drag Race All-Stars Season 2: justified or silly?
Aw, I love Adore. And I totally see where she is coming from. It’s like, “You brought me back because you love my drag, but you’re gonna rip apart my aesthetic. Again.” I get it. It’s just unfortunate, because I think her mind took over. She should have stayed. And she would have slayed. I rhymed!
You’re a poet and we know it! So, Balls Deep karaoke is your longest running show now, at Phoenix on Wednesdays.
I am so happy and proud of my Wednesday nights at Phoenix. I was brought on to turn the night around–it was just a slower night of the week. And it really was a tough code to crack–starting a night from the ground up is a lot of work.
That night used to have a little bingo in it, too. Do karaoke and bingo just not go that well together after all?
The bingo thing just wasn’t really fitting in to the night. I found that people really loved the karaoke part of the night, so I decided to put all of the energy into that!
How much singing talent is in the East Village?
The thing I love about that night is that the staff and I have really made the energy in the room the most important part. I always say at the beginning of the night, “There are only two rules here. 1.) have a good time (because why the hell else are we here) and 2.) treat everyone with love and respect like they deserve a Grammy award because that shit is free!” And they seem to love it, and really dive in on it. And I always say how lucky I am because there are so many good singers at my karaoke.
The East Village boys are cute.
Yes. They are really cute. So come check it out! It’s a really great kiki. And I sing a lot too on Wednesdays! So duh…
And let’s talk about Pieces, which is honestly becoming one of my favorite places to chill and catch a great show. What are your bartending nights there?
I’m just there on Monday nights. It’s a great time! Come get drinks from me!
And now you have a new party coming up at Mr. Biggs on Saturdays! Boys Night Out!
Yes I’m super excited! I love working with Scotty Em, and we throw a sick party. So happy to be back with him. BNO, this Saturday at Mr Biggs! Beer and vodka pong, gogo boys and a killer dance floor.
How did you meet Scotty?
We actually didn’t really know each other before we worked together. He reached out and asked me to host Tha’ Boy, which was our last party together at Phoenix Bar that then moved to Atlas Social Club. All good times!
I feel like Mr. Biggs is close enough to all the other HK stuff for convenience, but just far enough so that all that nonsense isn’t all up on you!
Right! Lexie Thomas actually used to host a successful Saturday night there, so I’m really excited to see what this new night brings!
So all these gigs are great, but if the Drag Fairy (redundant!) came to you and granted you the perfect, most coveted type of gig for Tammy Spenks to showcase everything she always wanted to do in front of the perfect audience… what would that show be like?
Ooooo I love a fairy! I really want to do a cabaret. It’s something I’ve been working on, and slowly putting together. But I would love a real, sit-down and drink-fancy ass-champagne, cabaret. With a live band and food. Lots of food. I love the art of cabaret, and I love talking and performing to intimate groups of people. Not to mention singing is my absolute favorite thing to do. So let’s do a cabaret!
Oh gurl, I’d love to see that! And I guarantee you’ll get that soon enough. Thanks Tammy!
Tammy Spenks hosts the new Scotty Em party “Boys Night Out” at Mr. Biggs beginning Saturday, September 10th (11pm). She bartends at Pieces on Monday nights, and hosts Balls Deep karaoke at Phoenix on Wednesday nights (10:30pm). Tammy can be followed on Facebook & Instagram.
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